Crossfit · fitness · Guest Post

Maybe I Like CrossFit (Guest Post)

11134277_10152813312708157_1498054266_nIn May 2014, emboldened by my successful adventures in cycling – embarking on a new physical activity after 60 (see my Guest Post on this)– I decided that I should try CrossFit. Now CrossFit has many detractors, as well as possibly fanatical supporters, and I have to say I was skeptical. My life’s partner had been coming home looking very beat up after his workout sessions and I couldn’t help wondering why someone would do that to themselves. But he was telling me it was fun and I had read Samantha’s post on CrossFit and in April while cycling round Fiesta Island in San Diego during the Pacific APA, she cautiously – that is, non-fanatically – recommended it as well. She also suggested I blog about it and, as you can see, it has taken me a year to do that. Why?

Well let’s just say that CrossFit and I didn’t hit it off right away.

My first two sessions seemed all right. My trainer (the awesome Brandy Adams at LA Jolla CrossFit) and I were getting to know each other. I did some squats, lunges, relatively light weights, some things with the BOSU, but then in the third session we moved to things I had never done before – kettle bell swings and wall balls. I think it was the I kettle bell that did it. I was afraid that I would swing it up over my head and it would come crashing down on me – a completely irrational fear that would require defying the laws of physics to be realized. To prevent this horrible calamity, I gripped my back in some way that sent it into spasm and I experienced my first serious sports injury. I’m over 60 so I suppose I’d been pretty lucky up till then. The result was more than six months of bad back pain.

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I am not sure why I didn’t just give up at that point.  But instead, I read the injury as revealing a weakness that I was determined to correct and so I kept training – at first, around my back, focusing on my core, and finally not only did my back return to pre-injury pain-free status, but I am a hell of lot stronger than I have ever been.

The whole process has been weird though because I actually couldn’t figure out why I was persisting, since I was very sore a lot of the time and tweaked quite a few other parts of my body in the process – none as badly as my back – but still hurting myself has never been one of my favorite things to do. Consequently, I have thought a lot about why I work out. People would say to me “You’ll lose weight.” That would have been okay with me I guess, but I didn’t and if fact, I found I didn’t really care very much about that. They would say “You’ll look great!” Well, I guess that’s nice, but again, that wasn’t really what was motivating me. I was going in part because of the relationship with my trainer – but I was traveling a lot this academic year for stretches of several months at a time and I was working out pretty hard on my own, so it wasn’t just Brandy. Again, I found my behavior puzzling – why was I doing things that were so hard? Like Burpees and workouts called “Fight Gone Bad” – I mean, with a name like that you know it can’t be pleasant.

So here’s my considered conclusion. I keep doing it because it feels good. Not the actual workouts – but being strong – doing things like throwing my luggage in the overhead bin with hardly any effort. Feeling good is not only enough to motivate me to continue, but I actually really look forward to working out – I even get excited about it.

After consideration, I offer this list of things that I particularly like about CrossFit:

1) Strength – I don’t do heavy weights yet but today I bench pressed a PR of 65 lbs and that felt pretty cool

2) Balance – when I walk I feel powerful – never tentative – it’s hard to describe exactly how this is different but it really is

3)Transportability – while having a place with equipment is nice, I have done pretty great workouts without any equipment, even in small hotel rooms. All I need is enough space to do lunges, squats, push ups and sit ups. I can put them together into a routine that feels like a total work out

4) Sweat – particularly sweating with my guy.

I’m having fun, I’ve learned new things, and I think I’m starting to like this CrossFit thing.

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Aikido · Crossfit · cycling · running

Serious off season training begins, now!

It’s the middle of January and I’m getting serious about off season training. It’s been going on for awhile but now it’s just one month until I’ll get to ride my new bike on the road, not the trainer.

I’m spending a week’s holiday in Arizona with my partner and my bike. (We’ve been there before and you read about my last Arizona cycling holiday here and see some photos here. )

I love this description of the terrain: “Long open roads that tend to be very straight with low rolling hills.  This tour has been designed to enjoy the warmth of long rides in the fabulous winter sunshine.”

In fact, there are hills but you have you to choose them and seek them out. I think we have one hilly day in the mountains.

I’ve got some new cycling goals for summer. Not so much distance, a bit more, but not a lot. But more speed!

I’ve got some running goals too, a faster 5 km and to be able to run 10 km regularly without injury.

I’ve signed up for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon with Tracy, Mallory, Natalie, Susan and bunch of other friends too.

I’m doing the Friends for Life Bike Rally again with a different Susan.

And I’m aiming to do the MEC Century on August 30th, 160 km, the day before my 51st birthday.  I’m hoping to do some local bike races, and a longer duathlon or two during the season. Maybe this one again: Fun end of summer race, complete with age group medals!

I’m pacing myself right now. I’m doing a weekly spin class with Cheryl Madligar at Pulse Spin Studio and two trainer classes a week with Coach Chris. (See Tracy’s post about her winter basement cycling tour.)  I’m also spending time with friends on the weekend riding rollers and trainers together. See Spin, roll, or ride the trainer: What’s the best choice?

I’m also back at CrossFit and I’m a regular at Aikido.

I’m tracking all my workouts with Garmin Connect and tracking all my food with My Fitness Paul. (I like tracking.)

I check in each week with cycling coach Chris about how I feel and how training is going. It all feels pretty good.

So one month until I leave for Arizona! Whee! I’m excited. Can you tell?

And a big summer of outdoor adventures soon after that. Though I’m still hoping to sneak in some winter activities, snow shoeing and cross country skiing before winter’s done.

Here we go!

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competition · Crossfit · Rowing

2 km erg test: How far the mighty have fallen

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I’m not rowing these days. Not just because it’s winter. I’m also not training indoors with the London Rowing Club.

I first stopped when I was helping to care for a seriously ill family member but even after her death I didn’t go back. I loved rowing but it wasn’t a perfect fit. There wasn’t enough local racing to keep me interested. The time spent driving versus the time spent racing seemed all wrong in the case of out of town regettas. Most importantly though my work travel schedule doesn’t fit well with taking a seat in a racing boat. I’m just away too much.

I’m okay with that. Really.

I loved rowing and expect I’ll do it again some day. I’m still excited and nervous when confronted with a 2 km erg test. When I first started indoor training for rowing, I wrote about the monthly 2 km erg tests. I liked the erg more than I thought I would and I actually won the masters women class in a local ergatta and blogged about that too here.

At CrossFit the other day, a timed 2000 m row was part of the workout. Yikes. Coach Dave asked if we had a best time we wanted to beat. The thing is I do have a best time, see posts linked above for details, but when I’m only training on the erg occasionally at CrossFit I can’t honestly expect to beat it. I settled on a time above my best ever time and aimed for that instead.

I was chatting that day with two other women who were trying to balance different goals, with varying degrees of commitments to different sports. I can rank the various things I do: cycling, Aikido, CrossFit, running…

I’m not quite a Jill of all sports, it’s easier to think of me as a polyamorous athlete with primary and secondary, etc commitments to various sports.

Rowing, I’m sorry. When I think about it that way you’re at best an occasional date.

I’ll keep my best ever 2 km time in my sights but I won’t sweat it too much if I fall short.

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Crossfit

Thinking about CrossFit in the New Year?

Of all the things I do, the one that intrigues non participants the most seems to be CrossFit. I get asked often about what it’s like and I find people have a lot of misconceptions.

As we approach the new year, I know lots of people are starting to think about beginning new programs of exercise, including CrossFit. Here’s my two cents.

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First, what’s CrossFit all about anyway? Here’s the official line:

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit involves a series of short-interval exercises that, done day after day, will result in an overall stronger, fitter you. It is designed to improve 10 physical attributes: cardiovascular/respiratory resistance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

Workouts of the Day or WODs are constantly varied and are typically short (20 minutes or less) and intense, demanding all-out physical exertion. Classes consist of a warm-up, strength training, WOD and cool down with mobility. They typically last around 45 – 60 minutes and can be scaled for all fitness levels.

If you’re thinking about starting CrossFit, here’s my advice. Keep in mind that I’m me. YMMV, as they say. I’m a 50 year old reasonably physically fit woman. I’m not easily intimated. I’m a pretty large woman. And I like high intensity physical activity and thrive when presented with challenges. I’ve been doing CrossFit for a couple of years, here in London, Ontario and also in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I first started.

First, it’s not just for already fit athletes. I hear a lot of people talk about getting in shape to join CrossFit but that’s just silly. I can see how you might think that if your main exposure to CrossFit is through the CrossFit games on television but in the real world, there’s a wide range of people doing CrossFit. The slogan at the London CrossFit box might be “forging elite fitness” but there a lot of regular people there just having fun and doing their best.

In fact, the CrossFit workouts are incredibly scalable to different levels. See my post Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts

And if you don’t believe me here’s someone talking about the message they heard at their level 1 CrossFit certification:

“If you think we are programming for (elite) athletes, you are dead wrong; they are but a fraction of the people working out in our gyms. What we do scales for the 70 year old grandmother as well as elite athletes.”

Second, it’s not just for twenty somethings. Yes, there are a lot of twenty somethings there but there are also a lot of people in their forties, fifties, and beyond. Here is my favorite CrossFit image, of a deadlifting grandma.

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Third, it won’t necessarily transform the way your body looks. It will change the way your body works. You’ll get stronger, fitter, faster, and generally more powerful but not everybody ends up looking like the images you find if you Google “women and CrossFit.” See CrossFit and women’s bodies. My only positive thought is that all the beautiful strong body images help counteract the idea that lifting makes women big and bulky. Personally, I’m not afraid of big and bulky. Come visit. In the real world of CrossFit you see women of all shapes and sizes. The cool thing isn’t how they look. It’s how much they lift.

I like thinking of the slogan “strong is the new skinny” as a shift to performance from aesthetics but I know I’m in the minority. Still, CrossFit is the environment where I hear very little from other women about weight, about diets, and about percent body fat. Mostly, the women talk about their goals in terms of strength.

Fourth, there’s a lot of coaching and instruction. I hear a lot of complaints from people who do other kinds of lifting about CrossFit coaching but in my experience those worries are way off the mark. Typically people complain about the number of participants to coaches and they worry about new people trying difficult lifts without supervision. In the places I’ve attended there’s nothing further from the truth. First, there’s a structured entry program where you learn the basics. Second, there’s a lot of attention from coaches while you lift.

Usually we have about a dozen athletes and one coach. That seems just right to me.

I can’t imagine learning to deadlift by myself in the gym. CrossFit is a terrific alternative.

I think maybe these complaints come from places where CrossFit is wildly popular and there are crowded understaffed classes. But that’s never been my experience.

Okay, what’s a typical class like?

It starts with a 10 min warm up, on your own. I used to hate the “on your own” bit and wanted someone to tell me what to do but I’ve come to see its virtues. People come to CrossFit with different strengths and weaknesses and while we all need to do a bit of cardio warm up (there’s skipping ropes, rowing machines, and a bike) and some mobility work to warm up joints before lifting often we also have our own body parts that require special attention.

Next there’s the bit that I think of as skill work. It’s not timed. There’s no race. The emphasis is on getting a particular lift right. Sometimes our focus is a certain part of the lift. Other times it’s strength and going for new personal bests. But it’s focused and careful. We usually work in small groups.

Today we worked on back squats, working up to 8 sets of 2 at 70% of your one rep max. I like that the groups are broken down by strength not gender and while it’s mostly women at the lighter end of the room, and mostly men at the heavier end, in the middle, where I’m often found there’s a good mix of men and women.

Then we put weights away and look at the Work Out of the Day (WOD) on the white board.

Today’s was 3 rounds of the following:
7 Push Press (Rx, or recommended, weight for women 30 kg)
30 push ups
30 air squats.

When you’re done you yell “time” and your time gets written on the board. I did it in 8:11.

I used the RX weight for the push press but I can only get out 10 push ups if I do them from the toes. So I scaled the workout and that’s okay. Possible scaling is discussed in advance. Some people lowered the weight and a woman with knee injuries substituted sit ups for the air squats.

At the end, you put away gear and stretch. I usually leave sweaty and smiling.

Come play sometime!

See also Can Feminists Find a Home in Crossfit? and Six Things I Love about CrossFit

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Aikido · Crossfit · cycling

November goals

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I find it helps to have short term goals, medium term goals, and long term goals. Five years from now, what do I want to do be doing? What do I want to do next summer? But also, what do I want to do in November?

I’ll confess that November isn’t my favorite month. It’s the start of the cold and the dark, for one. It’s also the anniversary of my sister’s death and that makes me sad. And it’s also that point in the university term when I’m up to my ears in meetings, writing letters of recommendation, grading papers, preparing lectures, giving talks, etc etc etc.

So it’s good to have something else to focus on. For November I have three things I want to accomplish.

First, I’m training to test in Aikido. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get to test. Lots to learn and new skills to master between now and the test date, November 22. I’m committed to the process even if my progress is slow. Aikido, like yoga, is a practice. You can read about what’s on my test here: Training for my 4th Kyu Test in Aikido.

Second, I’m getting back to CrossFit  after taking the summer off due to injury (stupid knee), learning to once again to fit early morning high intensity exercise back into my schedule. The challenge is, as always, getting to bed early enough so I can get eight hours sleep and make it to a 6 am workout. The math isn’t pretty.

Third, I’ve never used a trainer over the winter before though I’ve done other things. See Seven winter cycling options (I’ve tried them all!) But this winter I’ve committed to working with a cycling coach and that’s part of our plan. I bought the trainer below and it just arrived in the mail. Now that weekday evening rides are over, Tracy and I will be both taking trainer classes with Coach Chris. and with Cheryl of Happy is the New Healthy. I hope to still get out on my actual bike in the actual outdoors on the weekends when I aim for the middle of the day when it’s lighter and warmer.

November can be a tough month for me fitness wise. University life is super busy, there’s no challenging rides to keep in shape for, and it’s tempting to let everything slide, rest, and start fresh in January. But this year I have other plans. A change is as good as a rest, my grandmother used to say.

Wish me luck!

What do you have planned for November?

body image · Crossfit · media

Does one of the fittest women in the world need Photoshop?

Box Magazine thinks so.

See the discussion on reddit, Box Magazine clearly photo shopped Camille’s stomach.

To the question, who cares, one commentator on reddit replied,

“They did the same thing to Annie last year. This isn’t ‘retouching’. Retouching is removing a blemish or shadow, straightening a line on clothes, or removing stray hairs. THIS is removing body parts.

“Who the hell cares?” Well. For Camille, she’s a strong, athletic woman. That should be celebrated, and it isn’t. Even in the magazine that dedicates itself to crossfitters she’s too strong, too muscled, and too developed. She isn’t sexy or soft enough, so she gets whittled down. Why WOULDN’T we as a community care about that?”

A reader pointed out there’s also a great discussion over on Camille’s Facebook page where she shared the photo of the cover. Lots of other people in the comment thread (worth reading, for a change, thanks SK for the heads up) shared pretty muscly looking pictures of Camille and most readers of her Facebook page seem outraged that they’ve photoshopped out her abs.

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Who is Camille? The National Post writes,

The world’s newest “Fittest Woman on Earth” is a 25-year-old chemical engineering student from Richelieu, Que. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet placed first at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games in Carson, Calif., in the women’s individual competition Sunday. Ms. Leblanc-Bazinet, who is 5-foot-2 and weighs 130 pounds, is a student at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec and started CrossFit training five years ago. The sport involves a combination of weightlifting, gymnastics and high intensity interval training.

I enjoyed reading an interview with her in Shape magazine on body image issues,

If you watched 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games winner Camille Leblanc-Bazinet snag the title of “fittest woman on Earth” last month, you may be surprised that the sculpted athlete once struggled with body image. “I used to run because I wanted to be skinny, and then I’d eat like crap,” the former gymnast explained about her pre-CrossFit days. “I would always feel miserable about myself, like ‘You’re not pretty enough.’ It was self-destructive.”

……. Now that Leblanc-Bazinet is a pro in the weight room, she holds her head just as high. “If I gain two pounds but I can lift 100 more pounds on my bar, I’m like, ‘Hell yeah,'” she says. “I only want to be fitter, stronger, faster, and healthier, and that’s given me tons of confidence.”

So I don’t think she’ll be too bent out of shape about the cover but the rest of us? I’m with the reddit commentator quoted above. We should celebrate strong, athletic women for their strength. No more Photoshop.

aging · Aikido · athletes · Crossfit · injury

Hold my calls, CrossFit, but I’ll be back!

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Since my knee injury I’ve been reluctant to continue at CrossFit. It’s not them, it’s me.

The coaches at CrossFit are very good at modifying workouts to accommodate athletes’ particular injuries, abilities, and limitations.

But me? I’ve been told by a physiotherapist to stop the minute my knee hurts. I’m not sure that in the competitive CrossFit environment I’d be able to listen to my body in quite the way I need to. As many reps as possible? Sure. But then ouch? Not so sure I’d stop as needed.

Definitely no box jumps for me!

So I’m taking the summer off in hopes I’ll be well enough to go back in September. This will give me more time to focus on Aikido and cycling, neither of which seem to hurt my knee. I’ve had an x-ray, working with a physio, and an MRI is scheduled. Fingers crossed I can get back to running, CrossFit, and soccer soon.

If I’m not better in September my injured knee and me will report back to CrossFit London and learn to cope.

I’m missing you CrossFit! Even the burpees….but for the summer, I’ll be out on the road, keeping my injured knee happy.

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